NSW premier Barry O’Farrell should stand down his environment minister while an inquiry into the leaking of a cancerous chemical in a Newcastle neighbourhood is underway, the opposition says.
Fumes of hexavalent chromium from an Orica ammonium plant contaminated areas of Stockton on Monday night, but the state government did not tell residents until Thursday.
NSW Environment Minister Robyn Parker has since announced a “full and independent” review into the incident, that affected 70 homes and closed a childcare centre.
But the opposition says it isn’t good enough that it took 54 hours for Stockton residents to be informed of the chemical leak, and that the environment minister failed them.
“The Environment Minister says she told the premier’s office of the threat to public safety in Stockton on Tuesday – but the Premier’s office says they were not informed until Thursday,” opposition leader John Robertson said in a statement on Saturday.
“Either way, the Environment Minister has failed in her duty of care to inform residents about a major public safety risk in Stockton.”
Mr Robertson said an inquiry would need to look at why it took Ms Parker so long to inform Stockton residents of the dangers of the chemical leak.
“Stockton residents allowed their children to play outdoors, childcare centres opened their doors and families ate food that could have been contaminated while the Minister was aware of the threat,” he said.
“Given the seriousness of the information the Minister refused to make public, the Premier must stand the Minister down pending the outcome of the independent inquiry.”